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Strasburg's turnaround a learning experience

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Strasburg's turnaround a learning experience

ATLANTA — It was Memorial Day, and Stephen Strasburg was an utter mess. He was dealing with a variety of nagging-but-seemingly-minor ailments that either knocked him out of games early or resulted in opponents scoring runs in bunches against him.

Strasburg’s ERA stood at 6.55, a staggering 109th out of 110 qualifying major-league starting pitchers. And so observers near and far all wondered the same thing: Was this the end of Stephen Strasburg as we knew him?

Four months later, Strasburg answered that question as definitively as possible. After a dominant stretch of 13 starts as impressive as any other in his career, the Nationals right-hander resurrected his season and silenced whatever doubts had been placed on him.

And with one final dominant performance Thursday night at Turner Field — six scoreless innings during a 3-0 victory over the Braves — Strasburg put a stamp on the most unusual season of his career. From 3-5 with a 6.55 ERA on Memorial Day to 11-7 with a 3.46 ERA on October 1.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself through this process,” he said.

Indeed he did. Strasburg learned two important lessons over the course of the last six months, one physical and one mental.

Start with the mental lesson.

“I think I learned to be more aware of my thoughts out there,” he said. “There are times in the game when you can kind of let your focus slip just for a split second. And I made it a point to not let that happen, to just focus on each pitch and just let everything I’ve got go on that individual pitch and turn the page.”

It had been a longstanding issue for Strasburg. If one thing didn’t go his way, it would lead to two or three more things turning sour.

Not so much down the stretch this year. Strasburg allowed more than three runs only once in his final 13 starts, suffering through perhaps only one or two truly poor innings the entire time.

Now, for the physical lesson. After trying to pitch through on-and-off neck discomfort, which was the domino effect of a spring training ankle sprain that threw his mechanics out of whack, Strasburg realized more than arm ailments merit a break from pitching.

“You definitely use your whole body to throw, and when one little thing that’s not necessarily arm related occurs, you really have to figure out if that’s going to alter your [mechanics],” he said. “I want to compete every single time, because I’ve been around long enough that I know I’m not going to feel 100 percent every time. But I’ve got a little more insight on what’s OK and what I shouldn’t go out there with. I learned from it.”

It’s the kind of thing a pitcher perhaps can’t truly understand until it has happened to him, as Strasburg found out.

“Before, it was arm issues,” he said of previous seasons. “And I was kind of like: ‘Oh, my arm hurts, so I probably shouldn’t throw anymore.’ My arm’s felt good all year. It’s just been little nicks and bruises to other parts of the body that play a huge role. And I didn’t really understand it at the time.”

Strasburg understands it now. And as he prepares for a long winter back home in San Diego, he can take solace knowing he proved to himself and anyone else out there who doubted him that he’s still got it.

Would you believe he wound up posting a lower WHIP, opponents’ batting average, on-base percentage and OPS and a higher strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2015 than in 2014? Believe it.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” he said. “It was a good learning experience.”

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm